The valley of Hinnom lay to the west and south of ancient Jerusalem. (Jos 15:8; 18:16; Jer 19:2, 6) Under the later kings of Judah it was used for the idolatrous worship of the pagan god Molech, to which god human sacrifices were offered by fire. (2Ch 28:3; 33:6; Jer 7:31, 32; 32:35) To prevent its use again for such religious purposes, faithful King Josiah had the valley polluted, particularly the part called Topheth.—2Ki 23:10.
The Jewish commentator David Kimḥi (1160?-1235?), in his comment on Ps 27:13, gives the following historical information concerning “Gehinnom”: “And it is a place in the land adjoining Jerusalem, and it is a loathsome place, and they throw there unclean things and carcasses. Also there was a continual fire there to burn the unclean things and the bones of the carcasses. Hence, the judgment of the wicked ones is called parabolically Gehinnom.”
The valley of Hinnom became the dumping place and incinerator for the filth of Jerusalem. Bodies of dead animals were thrown in to be consumed in the fires to which sulphur, or brimstone, was added to assist the burning. Also bodies of executed criminals, who were considered undeserving of a decent burial in a memorial tomb, were thrown in. If such dead bodies landed in the fire they were consumed, but if their carcasses landed upon a ledge of the deep ravine their putrefying flesh became infested with worms, or maggots, which did not die until they had consumed the fleshy parts, leaving only the skeletons.
No living animals or human creatures were pitched into Gehenna to be burned alive or tormented. Hence, the place could never symbolize an invisible region where human souls are tormented eternally in literal fire or attacked forever by undying worms. Because the dead criminals cast there were denied a decent burial in a memorial tomb, the symbol of the hope of a resurrection, Gehenna was used by Jesus and his disciples to symbolize everlasting destruction, annihilation from God’s universe, or “second death,” an eternal punishment.
Therefore, to have one’s dead body cast into Gehenna was considered the worst kind of punishment. From the literal Gehenna and its significance, the symbol of the ‘lake burning with fire and sulphur’ was drawn.—Re 19:20; 20:10, 14, 15; 21:8.
2Pe 2:4—“By throwing them into Tartarus”
Gr., Tar·ta·roʹsas; Lat., de·tracʹtos in Tarʹta·rum;
Syr., ʽa·gen ʼe·nun beThach·ta·ya·thaʼ
“Tartarus” is found only in 2Pe 2:4. It is included in the Greek verb tar·ta·roʹo, and so in rendering the verb, the phrase “by throwing them into Tartarus” has been used.
In the Iliad, by the ancient poet Homer, the word tarʹta·ros denotes an underground prison as far below Hades as the earth is below heaven. Those confined in it were not human souls, but the lesser gods, spirits, namely, Cronus and the other Titans who had rebelled against Zeus (Jupiter). It was the prison established by the mythical gods for the spirits whom they had driven from the celestial regions, and it was below the Hades where human souls were thought to be confined at death. In mythology tarʹta·ros was the lowest of the lower regions and a place of darkness. It enveloped all the underworld just as the heavens enveloped all that was above the earth. Therefore, in pagan Greek mythology tarʹta·ros was reputed to be a place for confining, not human souls, but Titan spirits, and a place of darkness and abasement.
In Job 40:15 (40:20, LXX) we read concerning Behemoth: “And when he has gone up to a steep mountain, he causes joy to the quadrupeds in the deep [ἐν τῷ ταρτάρῳ (“in the tartarus”)].” In Job 41:31, 32 (41:23, 24, LXX) we read concerning Leviathan: “He makes the deep boil like a brazen caldron; and he regards the sea as a pot of ointment, and the lowest part of the deep [τὸν δὲ τάρταρον τῆς ἀβύσσου (“the tartarus of the abyss”)] as a captive: he reckons the deep as his range.” The use of tarʹta·ros in these verses in LXX makes it plain that the word was used to signify a low place, yes, the “lowest part” of the abyss.—Compare 2Pe 2:4 ftn.
The inspired Scriptures do not consign any human souls to tarʹta·ros but consign there only spirit creatures, namely, “the angels that sinned.” Their being cast into tarʹta·ros denotes the deepest abasement for them while they are still living. This serves as punishment for their sin of rebellion against the Most High God. The apostle Peter associates darkness with their low condition, saying that God “delivered them to pits of dense darkness to be reserved for judgment.”—2Pe 2:4.
The pagans in their mythological traditions concerning Cronus and the rebellious Titan gods presented a distorted view regarding the abasement of rebellious spirits. In contrast, Peter’s use of the verb tar·ta·roʹo, “cast into Tartarus,” does not signify that “the angels that sinned” were cast into the pagan mythological Tartarus, but that they were abased by the Almighty God from their heavenly place and privileges and were delivered over to a condition of deepest mental darkness respecting God’s bright purposes. Also they had only a dark outlook as to their own eventuality, which the Scriptures show is everlasting destruction along with their ruler, Satan the Devil. Therefore, Tartarus denotes the lowest condition of abasement for those rebellious angels.
In the inspired Scriptures, Tartarus bears no relationship to Hades, which is the common grave of the human dead. The sinful angels and the dead human souls are not associated together in tarʹta·ros as a place of eternal conscious torment of creatures. Tartarus will pass away when the Supreme Judge destroys the rebellious angels presently in that condition of abasement.